[OUTLOOK]Voting age doesn’t reflect realityI recently received an e-mail titled “It’s been a long time.” Without much thought, I clicked it open ― only to find spam from a porn site. There was a large red number 19 in the middle of the screen along with a message that the site was inappropriate for children and that users needed to verify their age to enter the site. It seems that once you turn 19, pornography is no longer harmful to you.
I wasn’t intending to write about porn this early in the morning. I intend to talk about the legal age at which one is allowed to perform certain social activities.
I’ve heard that there are certain bars or nightclubs that refuse entry to those who aren’t young enough, but generally the age limit works from the other side. That is, there are more things you are not allowed to do because you aren’t old enough. It is why children are eager to become adults quickly.
Once you turn 18, there are many activities you are allowed to participate in. For example, at 18, you can get your driver’s license. Nowadays, you can go to the army and fulfill your Korean military service as soon as you graduate from high school, at 18. With your parents’ permission, you can get married at 18, too.
However, there are some inconsistencies among the various legal ages at which one can participate in certain activities. For example, a married 18-year-old couple would not be allowed to enter a porn site. You have to be over 19 to enter. This seems absurd.
A more serious problem deals with the expression of political opinions. Our country demands military duty from 18- and 19-year-olds but does not give them the right to air their political opinions. They have duties, but they have no rights.
Also, 18- and 19-year-old married couples have no way of making the authorities take responsibility even when they find they pay too much tax or the public order is unstable. That is because they have no voting rights, which aren’t allowed until they’re 20.
The voting age in most democratic countries in the West is 18. As shown in all sorts of international competitions, the scholastic abilities or achievement of our youths are as great as those of the youths of any other country. However, we seem to think that our young people’s ability to form political judgments is less developed than that of their counterparts in other countries.
The majority of those in their first and second years of college, who are considered adults and treated as such in other matters, are not allowed to participate in elections. The election committee in Britain is said to have started discussing the possibility of lowering the voting age to 15. This is something one couldn’t even imagine in Korea.
The adults who lived through authoritarian regimes in the past never saw a proper election during their student days. There were no school elections. Student council presidents and class presidents were unilaterally chosen by the school faculty and formed part of a body called the Student National Defense Corps.
These days, however, the election of one’s representative has become a commonplace event for students from elementary school through university. Even putting aside school elections, children these days are accustomed to expressing their political opinions by such activities as participating in candlelight rallies or writing their opinions on the Internet. Politics has become something we can learn and get used to naturally in our daily lives, and through this process, we build our disposition as citizens of a democracy.
One of the reasons that the voting age hasn’t been lowered is due to the complicated interests of politicians. Also, politics could be considered “harmful” like smoking or pornography. As long as such a negative conception of politics continues, political instability and public cynicism will be repeated generation after generation, and the rate of participation in elections, which has already fallen to a dangerous level, will continue to decrease.
We cannot say that 18-year-olds, who can even get married, are too young and immature to vote. As those of us who have experience know, marriage is no trifling matter. If 18-year-olds are given the responsibility of making such a difficult and “dangerous” decision, then the government cannot say that they are incapable of making decisions in political matters.
Also, even in the despicable and detrimental state that our politics is in, we could hardly say that political participation is more harmful to youths than the pornography that 19-year-olds can access.
The voting age must be lowered through political reform now.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Won-taek